{ Confession, Grace and Fatherhood }

I love being a dad. It can be hard and frustrating at times. I will lose my temper or run out of patience. I can react without just cause handing out punishments that are maybe too harsh for the transgression committed. There are times when I don't give my children their chance to voice their case as I'm done with hearing anymore ... from anyone. In a nutshell, I sin.

I can offer excuse after excuse to justify my reactions...

"It's been a long day"
"I'm stressed about work"
"It's their fault. They just don't stop"
etc., etc...

And, sometimes these are true statements. But the real truth of the matter is sometimes it's simply me giving in to the struggle with my own weakness and giving myself permission to act as I probably shouldn't. I know this in my heart of hearts...if I allow myself the time to reflect on myself and my actions. That is hard. No one really likes to hold up the mirror to themselves to see their 'ugliness' but it is essential to continue to grow as a person. As a dad.

Aquinas tells us that grace perfects nature. This truth has become more clear every year. That this perfection of my nature is essential to not only my person as a child of God but also in the daily duties of my vocation as a father and a husband.

Since therefore grace does not destroy nature but perfects it, natural reason should minister to faith as the natural bent of the will ministers to charity.
— Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Part 1, Question 1, Article 8, Response to Objection 2.

We are all called to holiness. This is easier said than done. Especially if you are the dad penning this post. I'll be the first to admit that it is easy to give myself a pass simply because I'm a dad. A dad with 6 kids. A dad with 6 kids who is not monetarily rich by any stretch of the imagination. Easy to give myself a pass because (fill in the blank).

The last few weeks have been a real period of introspection and, simply put, grace. A grace that has allowed me to see my own 'ugliness' and the grace to overcome some of it. 

One of the best analogies I've heard regarding sin and its effect on our soul is that our soul can be likened to a vessel and grace  likened to water. Now, sins effect on the soul is like a crack in the vessel. The larger the sin the larger the crack and as God tries to fill our soul with grace it it too damaged to hold that grace. In essence, the vessel has lost its ability to fulfill its nature. Confession returns the vessel to a state without cracks and therefore can be filled again.

Rembrandt_Prodigal son.jpg

One of my absolute favorite parables in the bible is 'The Prodigal Son'. It's a story that has always resonated with me since I was a young boy. Just last year Jenn and I attended a First Communion workshop with Dominic as part of his preparation. During one of the 'sharing' times I found myself recounting the story to him and not being able to hold back the tears as I got to the point where the father runs out to his son to embrace him and welcome him home. The father runs! 

But while he was yet at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.
— Luke 15:20

One other thing that is not plainly stated but can be inferred by the phrase 'at a distance'...the father was always looking for him. Hoping for his return. Always looking out onto the horizon waiting for the day that his son would return. And with the return comes the embrace. The acceptance back into the family. The kiss. A sign of the forgiveness and love poured out by the father. 

In my own life I've always been like the son. Though sorry for my transgressions, my entry into the confessional has been more formulaic than anything else. There's a ritual to the sacrament and it is easy for me to come up with a way of confessing my sin using a sentence structure that 'softens the blow'. It confesses the sin but allows me to save face - something that is basically the opposite of confession. It is valid - and even heartfelt - though almost medical in its style of reporting the sin. A reservedness. I will share that I typically choke up during the Act of Contrition so there is contrition but that is still after a guarded confession.

All that changed a couple of weeks ago during my last confession. Something in me was tired of giving in to the weakness of my will. I entered into confession with a sense of abandonment. I was sorry, as all other times before, but this time I longed for a Father more than just the forgiveness. I longed for the person and not for just what that person could do. I confessed like no other time before. There was no selection of just the right phrase or turn of words. It was just a son saying 'I'm sorry and I need - truly need - your grace and though I am not worthy I still long for that love and compassion...a father that will run out to greet his son back into his arms'. 

Every human being comes from the hand of God, and we all know something of God’s love for us. Whatever our religion, we know that if we really want to love, we must first learn to forgive before anything else.
— Mother Teresa

I have two younger sons who are quick tempered and will lash out either verbally or physically depending on the situation. This is something that is common among boys and I understand this. What I do not tolerate is when they lash out at their mother. They both know this. 

One night a week or so ago one of them had lost his temper and made the unfortunate decision to take it out on his mother. I was not home at the time and therefore was not there to reprimand him. When I came home I found him sitting in one of our chairs just looking sad. After saying goodnight to everyone who already were in bed and Jenn explaining to me what had happened I walked back out to him to reprimand him. 

As I walked towards him I could see in his eyes and in his face that he was remorseful. Truly sorry. In that moment I knew that he didn't need me to tell him what he did was wrong. He knew that. What he did need was forgiveness. I picked him up in my arms and sat down with him in my lap and just held him. Embraced him. Kissed him. As the tears ran down his cheek and I could feel the tension in his body melt away I whispered to him, "it's ok. I love you" and we just sat there. Together.

You see all these years my perspective has been that of the prodigal son but within that moment with my son I was given the grace to feel the mercy and love of the Father for his children and in that grace to be a better dad. Grace does perfect nature.

{Deus Caritas Est}

{ Grave Marker, Friends, Politics and Grace }


The last few weeks have really forced me to look at myself and how I stand on certain issues.  Not whether I believe them but do I believe them enough to speak out for them - to take a stand.  

What sparked all of this is, of course, was the election.  I found myself more and more frustrated by the many posts and tweets i read on the web that spoke about health issues and defending women's 'healthcare' which seems to come down to defending the right to 'choose' - which always begs the question in my mind: choose what? The sentence is never completed by those who support choice.  It's never "I support the right to choose to kill an unborn child" or "I support the choice to dismember a baby in the womb".  No.  It's always half a sentence.  A beginning with no real thought to the end.  And for me that really points to the fact that our culture has moved so far from the eternal - the truth that this is not the end and be all of existence.  We are so wrapped up in the here and now that it's easy to lose sight of this simple and obvious fact - we won't be here on this earth forever - but we do have an eternal soul that does live forever.

Now I wouldn't be honest if I didn't include myself in this group.  Yes, I attend mass every week and we say our night prayers every night and through out the day I will sometimes remember this but pulling back and asking the question of whether I live as I should day in and day out?  I have to admit I'm a sinner and a man who struggles just like all men (universal man).

But beyond all this one thing that I have to admit, when searching my own soul, is that I fail my baptismal call as 'prophet' when I don't give a voice to truths at times that those truths are questioned by others.  I'm shy by nature - always have been - and it is a true struggle to make that leap of faith.  My mind becomes full of self-doubt ('I know I can't speak eloquently' or 'I know this person is so much smarter than me' or 'I will be mocked for this') and give in so often.  At the same time I an confident in my positions because I have faith in my Church's position as prescribed through the word of God.  These are tenants that have withstood the test of time and have shaped much of the good in our world.  But because of this I also can become uncharitable when I hear others speak against the Church with an irrational argument or one that holds a double standard.  But in the end - after the self-doubt and after the uncharitable thoughts I stand there and just feel saddened by the fact that people I know and care about are wrong.  And it's not in the sense of self-righteousness but when a friend says he supports a candidate because he wants to 'save' the ability for his wife and daughter 'to choose', my heart breaks.  A father is called to protect his children - first and foremost from the evils of our temporal and spiritual world.  To ensure they ultimately reach heaven.  Anything that works against that is a disordered sense of protection.

We must see life is sacred and protecting the most vulnerable in our world is one of the most important things we can do - as society, as a Church and as individuals.

Nothing has made that more clear to me than experiencing the birth of my own children and especially the death of one.

I shared months ago that our family had lost the latest addition to our family through a miscarriage.  Our baby had for some unknown reason stopped growing.  He was just a few weeks old and telling our children was one of the most difficult things I've had to do as a 'Dadda'.  The joy that that baby created in our family among his brothers and sisters was something that was different than previous times.  I'm sure being older and understanding more had much to do with that - they understood what was happening.  At the same time I believe it also had to do with just having a large family.  They almost expect another sibling and yearn for one.  Are saddened when it seems like we are done. If I'm being honest I have to admit that it wasn't necessarily joy that first ran through my head when I found out.  The first thing was fear.  Fear of how to pay for it…we can't afford another one…what will our family say…blah blah blah.  Again, me living in just the here and now.  Not thinking that another soul was just co-created with our Creator. A soul that will live forever.  One that could be prince or pauper - it would not matter - as he would be a child of God.  So, what did it take for me to turn around?  My children. 

I learn much from my children and through them.  This is what it means to me when Christ calls us to have childlike faith.  Children don't worry about how the mortgage will get paid or whether we'll have enough food or how much room will they have to give up for another sibling.  All they care about is 'I'm going to have another brother or sister'. They download apps to track the progress of the baby.  They start talking about names.  They want to start breaking out baby clothes from storage.  Telling the younger brothers stories of what it was like to have them as the new baby in the house.  They reminded me of the here and now in the light of the eternal.  This is what helped me through the loss of our baby.  That having another one was a joyful occasion. I still had moments of doubt and struggled but it was always my family that strengthened me as I faltered.  

Life is full of joyful times and there are times of sorrow.  When we learned that our baby had died it was a time to mourn.  I felt (and still struggle now) so guilty for the thoughts which initially ran through my mind.  So guilty for worrying about the extra cost of another baby.  But that guilt was tempered by the amount of joy that this little one had brought to our family in just a matter of two weeks.  Jenn and I of course knew longer than that but didn't tell the kids right away.  Within a week after we told them about the new baby we found out he had stopped growing.  Jenn and I waited and prayed for a week that a miracle would occur but during the second sonogram it was confirmed that we had lost our 7th child.

One of the most difficult things I've ever had to do is tell my children that their new little sibling 'growing in momma's belly' (as they liked to say) had stopped growing and would not be born as they had thought.  There was grief and sobbing - for days.  It was a lot for Jenn to go through.  Being with them all day and having them start crying throughout the day was draining as she went through her own grieving. Night prayers were painful and instead of praying for the continued health of our baby we prayed for his soul through tears and hugs.

Jenn and I talked about how to handle the miscarriage and she, being the loving mother she is, really wanted to miscarry naturally to ensure that we could bury our baby.  Days passed.  Weeks passed.  We were all on edge a bit wondering when and what to really expect.  The day finally came and after receiving a text from Jenn calling me home I rushed home - all the while wondering what to expect and what I was going to do.

I won't go into the details of the whole experience but I will share one profound moment of grace.  

Once home, Jenn showed me our baby.  He was so small and looked so vulnerable.  After getting her settled back in bed we had to decide what to do next. Because of all the bleeding we both decided he was to be washed.  

With a heavy heart I went back in and picked him up and carried him over to the running water and washed his tiny body as gently as I could. Fearful that I was going to damage his tiny limbs as I let the water wash away the blood.  As I did this with tears streaming down my face and talking to him telling him I was so sorry and calling him 'baby' the image of what it must have been like for Mary struck me.  To be with her son after he was taken off the cross. Holding him covered in blood, flesh torn and looking down at him with grief and unconditional love and remembering what it was like to hold the holy child that first Christmas night.  As painful as what was happening was for me I felt comforted knowing that I wasn't alone in what it is like to lose a child.  Not alone in grief but loved by an all loving God.  And at the same time reminded that this is not the end.  Through God's merciful grace which we can receive because of Christ's gift of his passion we will see each other face to face and I will hold my baby in my arms at last.

Experiences like these are ones that mark a place in my life where I find myself given a choice to harden my heart and get lost in the noise of life or turn to the Father that is waiting for his prodigal son and allow him to embrace me in moments of grace like the one above.  I pray for the grace to always choose the latter.

Why do I believe all life is sacred?  Simply because all life comes from a loving God who created us not out of need but out of love to share in His divine life. 

{ Deus Caritas Est }